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Prices are falling


Back in the year 1991, when I was about to make a run for City Council, my political guru, the late Tom Fischer (may you rest in peace, old friend), gave me a piece of advice.

"You may be a little too high-class to get elected, John. People may think that you're just some snooty East Coast liberal who wants to raise their taxes."

C'mon, Tom, I pointed out, I was born here! How can I be an East Coast liberal?

"Because you are," said Tom, "You went to school back East, you owned a sailboat, you worked on Wall Street. You're not a good old boy. Buy a motorcycle, and for God's sake cut your hair short. And just remember," (and Tom paused for effect), "this is not a Saks Fifth Avenue city. This is a K-Mart city, and they want K-Mart candidates. Target is as high as they'll go."

He was right, of course. I cut my hair, wore a respectable suit, talked about high school hot-rodding, and good ol' boyed it up as best I could. And I got elected.

But it didn't take me long to figure out that, although we were a K-Mart city, our politics were Saks Fifth Avenue all the way: low taxes, scant regulation, subsidies for business and sweetheart deals of all kinds for developers. It was pretty clear that the poorer parts of town got the shaft and that rich neighborhoods were coddled and protected. It took me a while to figure out just what was going on; after all, our demographic profile and average household income suggested that we should have moderate-to-liberal politics, not this antediluvian conservatism.

And then I figured it out: Fort Carson. Next summer, for example, there may be nearly 20,000 soldiers stationed there, along with thousands of spouses and dependents. These folks rent apartments, patronize local merchants, and inject hundreds of millions into the economy. For the most part they're young, they're not rich, and a lot of them are Hispanic or African-American. But there's a way that they differ from other Springs residents: They don't vote in local elections. So all of a sudden, it made sense. Forget demographics -- these 20,000 folks might as well not exist, for all the impact they have on local politics. They're no more involved with us than are the Supermax inmates in Florence.

So that's why the local Republican/business hierarchy is overjoyed by the prospect of several thousand new soldiers at Carson. All those new consumers, and no new voters -- it's status quo all the way.

Right now, the powers that be are slapping each other on the back, because it's pretty clear that Carson's safe from closure for the next few years. And we all know that's a good thing, right?

Maybe, maybe not. Twenty or 30 years ago, our economy was much smaller and mightily dependent upon Fort Carson. The base is still important today, but far less so. And although its closure would cause some economic hardship, especially among businesses and property owners close to the base, we'd pick up the slack pretty quickly.

Consider the obvious: The growth of this community to the south and southeast has been artificially constrained by Carson's presence. If ever it closes, the availability of all that prime land for development might trigger an enormous amount of economic activity, just as the closure of Stapleton Airport and Lowry Air Force Base did for Denver.

Meanwhile, as Springs politics morphs from K-Mart to Wal-Mart (still low-rent conservative, but even cheaper), it's left to the thoughtful few to try to clean up the messes.

Ballot Issue 1B, the "Public Health Protection Initiative" seeks to remove the El Paso County Health Department from one of the more bizarre restrictions of Doug Bruce's TABOR amendment to the state constitution.

Because of TABOR's "revenue limits," the Health Department can't accept federal grant money (e.g., from the Homeland Security Administration). So what happens to the dough? It just gets parceled out to other Colorado counties, who have been smart enough to de-Bruce. And so what happens to us? Public health revenue drops, the population climbs, and we risk a public health crisis. And wouldn't that be great for the economy? Imagine the New York Times headline: "Tuberculosis strikes Colorado Springs; new cases double in last year." But that can't happen, can it?

Oh yes it can -- in fact, it already has. Last year, there were five new cases of TB in El Paso County. This year, there have already been 10.

But keep it quiet, OK? Bad for the economy, don't you know ...


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